Beyond the Pool of Stars is the latest Pathfinder Tales novel jointly published by Paizo and Tor. Released October 6th, this water based adventure promises to be a gripping new experience in Pathfinder’s world of Golarion. As a scuba diver with a love of the ocean, I am excited for the underwater action in this book. Add this to the fact that Pathfinder is my go-to roleplaying game and this is a match made in… the sea, I guess. At the end of this post is your chance to win this exciting new Pathfinder tale.
Pathfinder, published by Paizo, is a fantasy role-playing game based in the world of Golarion. Pathfinder Tales are a “series of pulse-pounding sword-and-sorcery” tales that allow you to “Journey alongside brave Pathfinders as they venture across the world of Golarion! Learn all-new details about little-known corners of the Pathfinder world–as well as some of its most important denizens and locales!”
Howard Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows and Stalking the Beast. He was also a former editor of Black Gate, a quarterly fantasy magazine. Mr. Jones’ own website www.howardandrewjones.com contains a wealth of useful writing advice in his writing techniques blog. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview Howard Andrew Jones after the release of Beyond the Pool of Stars.
GeekDad: Tell us a little about your new Pathfinder Tales novel Beyond the Pool of the Stars. What are we in for?
Howard Andrew Jones: A kick-butt female lead, mysterious lizardfolk, lost cities, hidden secrets, scheming sorceresses, gleaming treasure, daring escapes, loyal friends – hopefully readers in search of Adventure with a capital A will find the book just brimming with it.
GD: What was your inspiration to do an underwater-based Pathfinder Tale?
HAJ: Oddly enough, the whole thing started with me reading a story by Leigh Brackett that was set in a wondrous sea of buoyant mists in one of her Eric John Stark short stories. She’s one of my favorite writers, and that particular tale really resonated with me.
GD: As a diver, I’m excited for the underwater scenes. What is your personal experience with the deeps?
HAJ: I’ve never dived very deep myself. I’ve done some snorkeling on the coasts and, in particular, in the Caribbean, an experience timed perfectly for my work on the book, for I was in the midst of its planning stages when I was boating off the U.S. Virgin Islands.
GD: Again, as a diver, I love all the tech and gear that allows us to survive in an environment we’re not designed for. I like feeling the drag of the water or hovering in the great wide open. Pathfinder has a great many ways to magically circumvent the difficulties of being underwater. How did you balance the magic that makes underwater “easy” with making the environment a dangerous and interesting challenge for the characters?
HAJ: I didn’t want to make it easy for most of the characters. Even with specialized gear like that Mirian Raas has inherited there’s still a world of predators and challenge that can come at you from 360 degrees. She’s fortunate enough to have a ring of water breathing and a ring of free movement, but that doesn’t make the deeps safe, or the shallows visible at night. The rest of her team either has to get by with a little gadget called an air bottle, which is a little like a scuba tank, or, in the case of her lizardfolk allies, simply holding their breath for a long time.
GD: You had the opportunity to discuss character design with Patrick Rothfuss at Detroit’s ConFusion. He mentioned that “you shouldn’t give a character more than three ‘tags’ to identify them.” What three tags would you apply to Mirian Rass, lead character of Beyond the Pool of Stars?
HAJ: As primary viewpoint character we don’t usually get to see her looking at herself, but we occasionally get two visual tags. She’s dark-skinned and she has tightly curled hair, swept back from her forehead so it doesn’t impede her view. She never gives up, and that’s evident in the way she carries herself and the way she uses her eyes. Determination I think is a sort of a tag, even though it’s not quite what Pat was talking about.
GD: Most novel writing involves quite a bit of research. Beyond the Pool of Stars involved new regions of Pathfinder‘s Inner Sea, ships and ship combat, and undersea action. What’s the most interesting thing you learned while writing the novel?
HAJ: Hmm. Well, I had a very interesting discussion with writer Rich Howard about diving, and I read some great old historical adventure novels about sailing. My talk with Rich was probably more directly useful for this book, and the old terms and atmosphere ended up informing its sequel, which I’m putting the finishing touches on this week.
GD: From your blog posts it appears you don’t just write about roleplaying games, but are yourself a gamer. Do you play Pathfinder or another RPG? You say in one of your blog posts, “Just as I prefer streamlined role-playing game systems.” Pathfinder is my game of choice, and is many great things, but as a descendant of D&D 3.5 it is certainly not “streamlined.” What then is your game of choice? How often do you get to play? Tell us a bit about your latest experience with it.
HAJ: I’ve been a gamer since junior high and until very lately had never taken a particularly long hiatus from the hobby. As for Pathfinder, well, you caught me there. The older I get, the less I enjoy running a game with a whole lot of granularity. I ran Pathfinder for several years, but I find I prefer playing it to running it. More and more I leave rules-heavy games to be run by one of my two friends who grok that stuff. Me, I’m all about the story, and I hate having to remember a mountain of rules. Honestly, I don’t remember, which is frustrating for both me and my players!
Lately I’ve been attracted by several retro-clones or semi-clones: Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry or its spin-off, Crypts & Things, or Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. They all are modeled off of an older version of D&D, with fewer rules.
I’ve also been quite attracted by Barbarians of Lemuria, and I got to play a session at GenCon this year that was an absolute blast.
My current favorite game, though, is Savage Worlds, and I’m hoping to get back to running again this winter after I finish my next two novels. I’ve been over-committed for the last couple of years and just haven’t had time to play. I’ve really begun to miss it. I love both that Savage Worlds really does play Fast, Furious, and Fun, as advertised, and that it’s more about creating the story than employing rules I can’t remember. It’s cinematic and moves quickly. I also enjoy the various settings and many of the plot point campaigns are a great jumping-off place for adventure-running. As a matter of fact, there are so many great settings I’m having a hard time deciding which ones I want to run with my group!
GD: Here’s something you don’t hear very often. Tell us about a favorite RPG character you’ve played.
HAJ: Hah! I’m usually the GM, so I don’t have a whole lot of characters to choose from. Probably Red Cloud, who I ran first as a Chill character, and then as a shaman in the original Deadlands many years ago. He was a stoic, brilliant man of Native American descent who also happened to be very strong. Of course, I got to play Asim el Abbas in the aforementioned Barbarians of Lemuria, the narrator of my two Arabian fantasy novels, and that was great fun. He’s incredibly loyal and honorable, and a deadly swordsman. Not the brightest fellow, but much shrewder than his enemies give him credit for.
GD: At a recent GeekDad panel, the panelists were asked, “What are the two geekiest things you do with your kids?” What are the geekiest activities you are handing down to your kids?
HAJ: Fortunately the love of reading isn’t as geeky as it used to be, so I won’t even count that. I was mightily pleased that both could see the good in the original Star Trek. I was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to look past now-dated special effects, but they seemed to really enjoy the best of them. Neither took to role-playing games as much as I did, but they sure do love fantasy and science fiction, and I imagine my firstborn is going to have quite a career in the field himself, probably very soon.
GD: What geek aspect of your childhood most resonates with your life and work now?
HAJ: The values taught in the original Star Trek continue to resonate and had a profound impact in my life. By those I mean that you should judge someone by their actions and not by their appearance, that you should protect the defenseless, that you should do the right thing even if the path is harder, that you should move heaven and earth to shield your friends and loved ones – even that the laws are not just for the yangs, but for the koms as well – that they must apply to everyone!
GD: Who is your most influential author; what novels most influenced your style?
HAJ: There are a lot of them, but I usually name three who I think had the most lasting impact. Harold Lamb, a wonderful and sadly neglected historical fiction writer who wrote swashbuckling, pulse-pounding adventure tales in hidden corners of the globe; Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan and so many more – not forgotten but definitely underrated and sometimes devalued; and the aforementioned Leigh Brackett, who brought dying Mars of space opera so vividly to life and who crafted characters who would have been at home in Star Wars or Firefly decades before either of those creations appeared on our screens.
And then I have to give honorable mention to Fritz Leiber for his wonderful Lankhmar stories, about half of which I absolutely love, and to Roger Zelazny for a number of works, most particularly the first Chronicles of Amber.
GD: What’s the one bit of advice you can pass along to aspiring writers?
HAJ: Know what every character wants before you start writing the scene.
GD: In perusing your “Writing Techniques” blog, I see mention of quite a few Kickstarters. What one active Kickstarter deserves a plug right now?
HAJ: Funny you should ask. There’s a Savage Worlds Kickstarter underway right now for a really cool Victorian gothic horror setting named Rippers, where brave heroes fight creatures of the night. It has a sort of Van Helsing/Steampunk vibe. It originally debuted more than a decade ago, and it’s been revamped with an entirely new plot line and challenges. I’m looking forward to reading it and, hopefully, running it.
At this point I think it has only a day or two left. You can find it here: Savage Worlds: Rippers Resurrected RPG!
GD: Thank you so much for your time!
And now, if you’d like to get your own copy of Beyond the Pool of Stars, fill out this form for a chance to win! This is for a physical copy of the book mailed to you from TOR and is available to residents of the United States and Canada. The winner will be selected on election day, November 3rd. You can read the first chapter on Paizo’s blog.
Howard Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast, and the hot off the presses Beyond the Pool of Stars. A former Black Gate Editor, he also assembled and edited 8 collections of historical fiction writer Harold Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be found lurking at www.howardandrewjones.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardandrewjon.